I came across a section of one of Geshe-la’s books yesterday which I found extremely interesting and incredibly relevant to my previous post. So much so, I feel the need to share part of it! Shamefully I have to state it was the first time I had read the section, The following is taken from Clear Light of Bliss by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (pg 153 – 155)

“ The first Panchen Lama was a highly realized practitioner who always behaved in a very humble manner, but when writing about the need to refute mistaken and misleading teachings he was quite direct: 

As we cannot percieve the mindstream of others 

We should strive to appreciate the teachings of all;

But I cannot accept those who spread wrong views

And through these wrong views lead many astray.

What the Panchen Lama wrote several hundred years ago is particularly applicable today. If pure Dharma is to flourish in western countries it is essential that we examine our beliefs carefully to ensure that they are fully in accordance with the pure teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni. The ugly, unfortunate result of not understanding pure Dharma and of following misleading teachings that pretend tot be pure Dharma is sectarianism. This is one of the greatest hindrances to the flourishing of Dharma in the west. Anything that gives rise to such an evil, destructive mind should be eliminated as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. 

Nowadays there is a strong tendency to believe without the slightest hesitation every word spoken by someone of high reputation, whereas a humble practitioner giving perfect and accurate teachings is often neither appreciated nor believed. Buddha Shakyamuni cautioned his disciples against adopting such a mistaken attitude:

Do not accept my teachings simply because I am called Buddha.

Time and time again he reminded his disciples not to accept his teachings out of blind faith, but to test them as thoroughly as they would assay gold. It is only on the basis of valid reasons and personal experience that we should accept the teachings of anyone, including Buddha himself.

In the teachings on the four reliances Buddha gives further guidelines for arriving at an unmistaken understanding of the teachings. He says:

Do not rely upon the person, but upon the Dharma.

Do not rely upon the words, but upon the meaning.

Do not rely upon the interpretative meaning, but upon the definitive meaning.

Do not rely upon consciousness, but upon wisdom.

The meaning of these lines is as follows:

1. When deciding which doctrine to rely upon we should not be satisfied with the fame or reputation of a particular Teacher, but instead should examine what he or she teaches. If upon investigation we find the teachings reasonable and faultless, we should accept them, but if they lack these qualities we should reject them, no matter how famous or charismatic their expounder might be.

2. We should not be influenced merely by the poetic or rhetorical style of a particular teaching but should accept it only if the actual meaning of the words is reasonable.

3. We should not be satisfied merely with an interpretative meaning of conventional truth but should rely upon and accept the definitive meaning of the ultimate truth of emptiness. In other words, because the method teachings on Bodhichitta and the wisdom teachings on emptiness and so forth are companions, we should not be satisfied with only one or the other but should practise both together.

4. we should not be satisfied with impure, deceptive states of consciousness, but should place our reliance upon the wisdom of meditative equipoise of Superior beings.

If we understand these four reliances and use them to evaluate the truth of the teachings we receive, we will be following an unmistaken path. There will be no danger of our adopting false views or falling under the influence of misleading Teachers. We will be able to discriminate correctly between what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected, and we will thereby be protected against faults such as sectarianism”.

The above was taken from Clear Light of Bliss by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (pg 153 – 155).

Well that seems pretty clear to me and I think it makes Geshe-la’s viewpoint on sectarianism crystal clear too. I find this section so relevant to issues raised at this present time. 

 

NKT….Cult or Not??

August 23, 2008

The suggestion that the NKT is a cult is not a new thing, nor I’m sure will it be proven otherwise any time soon. Whenever I hear the word “cult” I associate it with a small group of people in a barn drinking cyanide or….. one of my favourite clothes shop’s. I certainly don’t associate the word with the New Kadampa Tradition.

In my helpful, over-large dictionary the definition of cult is – actually there are loads of definitions. Probably the most relevant to the type of cult I am discussing is “ A quasi-religious organisation using devious psychological techniques to gain and control adherents”. Ok, well, that is not my experience or view of the NKT, what I have been taught are Buddhist principles which focus around developing a recognition of impermanence and compassion.

As for cult like behaviour.. well yeah I think in the past there have been people who have behaved slightly cultish. I’m sure probably some of the time with good intention but just getting a bit lost along the way. I remember someone in one of the centres I lived in being over fond of starting their sentences with “Geshe-la says” I frequently replied “I wasn’t asking” I’m sure the person felt I was being down right rude, maybe I was, I don’t know, maybe partially annoyed at the person’s presumption that I have no idea what Geshe-la says in his books or have somehow forgotten at specific moments when I was not willing to engage in something someone else wanted. I do think this sort of behaviour needs to be pointed out and eradicated. However saying this I haven’t really experienced stuff like that in a long time. Thank Goodness!

The people who seem to be suggesting the NKT is a cult have written various stories and testimonies of those I have read there seems to be a few common threads, which I will mention. While I do sympathise with some of the people, I also have my own view and opinion from reading these. I’m sure now I am going to be labelled as the heartless Buddhist. Apparently certain people have been told not to read books by anyone other then Geshe-la and told to donate vast amounts of money to their centres etc etc.  I have to ask “ Why would you do this if it was something you didn’t want to do?” As these people went along with such actions, it seems to me like they are the ones acting very cult like indeed, having some fanatical view and allowing themselves to blindly follow. I have never experienced this sort of thing in my time in the NKT, I am not disputing that this has happened in the past, but I have to add, Had I experienced things similar to this I feel sure I would have simply said “No” if I felt uncomfortable or didn’t want to go along with what was being asked of me. Nowhere in any of Geshe-la’s books or teachings has he said we should blindly follow without questioning, in fact he explicitly says the opposite.

 I was thinking about this after reading the blog Faith, Reason and Doubt, on A New Kadampa Buddhist’s blog, I found this interesting as I don’t recall ever being scared to question anything within the tradition or teachings. I think it is fundamental to being able to develop a sincere practice. If I personally didn’t question the teachings I don’t think I would believe enough to practice them, I would think they were nice and made sense but that would be it, I think. I have to again point out that I don’t believe myself to be a pure and sincere practitioner as yet, but I am definitely trying!

Anyway aside from the above, a word that springs to mind is subjectivity. I am clearly not going to change the minds of people who have had bad experiences and subsequently have a bad view of the NKT and in the same way what those people write about the NKT is not going to change my positive view of the NKT. One thing I do hope though, is that if there are people new to Buddhism that want to visit NKT centres, I hope they are not put off by the experiences others have had. I hope they are able to go and find out for themselves if it is for them, or not.

Whenever I sit down to meditate it always takes me some time to get my mind to a relatively peaceful state. If I don’t try and somehow still my mind first, I am always unsuccessful in my meditation. I used to use breathing meditation as a method to accomplish some stillness, however these days I have been using the absorption of the cessation of gross minds, in other words, going like stone or wood. Geshe-la taught this in America in 2006 and mentioned it this last summer festival 2008. 

Geshe-la explained that with distraction we can’t accomplish anything: our listening, contemplating and meditating in general and training the mind in particular has no power. Until now many people have practised Dharma with distraction and so never gained familiarity. 

Geshe-la then explained how to meditate on the absorption of the cessation of gross minds. Absorption here means a single-pointed subtle mind absorbed on an object. The object is the cessation of our gross mind. To manifest our subtle mind we need to temporarily cease our gross mind. To develop or cultivate a cessation of our gross mind we use a simple method as follows: first stop paying attention to any object, do not think about anything, remain like a stone or a piece of wood, like an inanimate object without perceiving or experiencing anything. Remain in this state until our gross mind of distraction ceases. Then when we have accomplished this cessation of gross minds we remain in this state and hold this cessation. When our gross mind of distraction ceases then our subtle mind holds it single pointedly.

Geshe-la concluded we should practice this meditation continually until we gain deep familiarity. When we have great familiarity with this then whenever distractions develop we can stop them by remembering this meditation.

For me this way of stilling my mind before focusing on an object of meditation has been successful. I find my mind relaxes much quicker. This appeals to me because I first imagine how a stone or a piece wood is inanimate and as such has no thoughts, conceptions or feelings. Nothing arises from it and nothing dissolves into it. I recall these characteristics and then try and take them on for myself, becoming that which does not perceive or feel anything. It really works for me and I enjoy the experience it creates in my mind. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but definitely works for me and is my favourite for now.

I said in the previous post that the tradition has and can learn from Samden’s bad actions. It was a terrible series of events that happened and I wish they never had. 

Every faith or tradition needs to establish ways / means of assuring as best they can that such things can be avoided. It is hard to learn to deal with this type of abuse and protect against such abuse in theory. (To state the obvious, of course if every person or teacher were to practise Kadam Dharma purely with wisdom, there could never be any such problems). So our tradition now has this circumstance to face and learn very quickly about that which other well known religious organisations have needed generations to admit and deal with. 

As I have already said I wish this had never happened, however it did and now we have to accept that and find ways to move forward.

In the future it could have been very easy for misunderstandings to arise with respect to any secret sexual practices existing within ordination. For example, when Geshe-la is no longer around…..perhaps there could be some teachers who with a bad motivation began to first whisper, then teach openly about some sort of strange sexual lineage that was valid for ordained people. Many of those listening could easily have believed and even passed on this information. As a result such a thing could easily cause the tradition to fall apart and many many people to get hurt. However now while there is still the clear authority in the NKT whom everyone accepts, namely Geshe-la, it has been made absolutely crystal clear that such practices have no place within the NKT.

Equanimity

August 18, 2008

I love love love the teachings on developing Equanimity. When I first heard them I could relate to the whole idea that we have unbalanced attitudes towards friends, enemies and strangers. I could also see how, for example, a person I am attached to could be an object of aversion for others, therefore clearly showing the person is not inherently pleasant or unpleasant.  

I recently had a teaching on Equanimity which refreshed in my mind the importance for me of developing a warm and friendly attitude towards all living beings. I was mulling over the benefits today of actually being able to do this. I came to the conclusion if I really could develop a warm and friendly feeling towards all living beings, it would completely protect me. 

During the teaching on Equanimity the teacher said

“We often don’t like people and have no interest in getting close to them, we are able to generate this effortlessly” 

Completely true in my case, he went on to say

“Whenever we see people we have an inbuilt fault picking device. When we first meet someone we think, What’s wrong with them? Then sometimes when we cant find anything wrong with them ,we see good qualities, exaggerate them and become attached. Also if we find faults in a person, we then go to our friends and collaborate, we then make the faults of others appear to them. We then think, I’ve questioned everyone and they all agree, therefore it must be true”

I do this all the time, Im so unbalanced. I don’t want to be anymore though. If I had a warm and friendly feeling towards all living beings then as Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says

“There will be no basis for the problems of anger or attachment to arise, and our mind will remain at peace all the time”

Sounds good to me. I know as well that if I don’t have a balanced attitude towards all living beings then there is no basis for developing strong minds of love, compassion and Bodhichitta. So… I have made a determination that I am really going to try and do this, starting from now.

Regarding Samden

August 18, 2008

I wanted to write a short post with my view on the Samden issue, Its obviously well known among people so I don’t feel I need to explain the details. Over the past year people have asked my thoughts and feelings on this matter. This seems an ideal place to post this. Here goes;

I knew Samden throughout my time in the New Kadampa Tradition and he was obviously a prominent figure within the organisation. As such when everything came out about him many people experienced varying degrees of shock, disappointment, anger, disillusionment, disbelief and crisis of faith. I would like to offer my own point of view.

Although I felt incredibly sad for the people involved, part of me felt delighted as I would no longer have to sit through his teachings, which I found extremely painful! I felt optimistic about who the next teacher would be as for me the only way was up. 

A friend of mine was starting to think after this, Do the teachings not work? and Why did Geshe-la choose Samden? With respect to the teachings not working, it is clear that Samden was not following the teachings and so it does not follow at all to say that the teachings don’t work. Samden was the ‘Gen-la’ which many people would have thought made it clear that he was well practised within the Dharma, however I feel that the only way to believe or not if the teachings work, is by practising them oneself and using personal wisdom to investigate what the teachings say. Samden was doing things that were never ever taught to him and Geshe-la made this quite clear within correspondence between the two of them.

With respect to why Geshe-la chose Samden, obviously I don’t know the answer to this, but my opinion is that at the time, years ago, Samden was the person that was able to push the tradition forward, he had lots of energy which was good for the development of the NKT at that time. Also thinking from the point of view of now, although it has been a troubling time for the NKT they have learned many lessons quickly. They have had to put many things in place that are designed to help prevent this kind of situation arising in the future, and prevent the degeneration of the tradition in general. I feel that also from this situation people will have a much better and balanced view of their teachers and check more carefully what advice they are following and not just follow them based on blind faith or the teacher’s reputation. This I believe is helpful for both teacher and student. Following reputation of a teacher rarely has good results. For example the Dalai Lama has an amazing reputation which so many follow without question, and yet at present he seems to mainly have a political motivation and be trying to force everyone into giving up the practice of Dorje Shugden. Geshe-la on the other hand now has a terrible reputation, why? because he is one of the only well known teachers to be standing up to the Dalai Lama’s actions. What does Geshe-la have to gain by doing this? nothing in fact it only gives a bad reputation. It doesn’t help give Geshe-la power or influence, quite the opposite. He could have so easily acquiesced to the Dalai Lama’s decrees and his own reputation would have remained intact.  

So for me I’m positive about the New Kadampa Tradition’s future and still as glad as always to be a part of it.

I have always loved animals, any animals, insects too, having said that I did used to have a fear of spiders, I would never ever harm them but would quite often jump on the sofa and scream if one ran across the floor. I remember one night studying for my English G.C.S.E I opened a book and a spider ran out onto my bed somewhere, never to be seen again and my poor mum being made to search for it, unsuccessfully. Needless to say I slept on the sofa that night.  I also remember how I managed to curb my fear and get slightly more sensible around spiders. I used to be a home carer and one time while visiting one of my lovely elderly ladies she asked me if I would remove a spider for her. When she saw the horror in my face she promptly said “Oh don’t worry love, I will go and get the hairspray” At which point I had a choice, either subject the spider (which was gargantuan by the way) to death by hairspray, or pull myself together and go and get it and put it outside. I asked her for a glass and a piece of paper while wondering how the hell I was going to cope with this task. My heart was beating so fast and hard and my hands had gone so far past being clammy. Anyway I somehow managed to put the glass over the HUGE spider, slip the paper underneath, turn it upside down and run outside with it, (without really looking at it). Since that time I have not been so scared although I do have a really nifty spider catcher which means one can stay at arms length when needing to place a spider elsewhere and if its bad weather Im happy for spiders to live in one of my cupboards.  Anyway I’ve completely digressed….

 

One thing I initially loved about Buddhism was the kindness towards any animals. I am a vegetarian and was long before becoming a Buddhist and my naivety many years ago kind of presumed that because Buddhists view all living beings as their kind mothers, being a vegetarian would almost be a pre-requisite for being a Buddhist. However I know many NKT Buddhists and other tradition Buddhists that eat meat and I am curious about this subject. To be clear I don’t think I am  being critical or judgemental in any way, I am sincerely interested in points of view on this matter.  I am not a vegan. At present I wear leather shoes and eat organic dairy, I suppose my justification for doing this thus far has been that I only purchase leather shoes once in a blue moon and I try to be conscientious with the dairy products I buy and therefore my small contribution to the industry could be almost insignificant. Whereas buying and eating meat seems a much more regular occurrence and therefore much more directly contributing to the suffering of many animals. Of course when talking about being a vegetarian I am referring to buying organic vegetables as I am aware of the numbers killed by insecticide. That said having contemplated my own reasons for remaining a vegetarian rather than a vegan I feel that gradually moving towards a vegan lifestyle would compliment my views and be more congruent with my feelings. 

 

So I’m interested in peoples thoughts, especially those of NKT Buddhists who eat meat. In reference to the section in Joyful Path of Good Fortune, Going for Refuge. The outline: How To Go For Refuge By Practising Three Rounds Of Meditation (p225). In this particular mediation designed to help the development of our Renunciation we imagine rebirth as a pig, then what happens to us (courtesy of the meat industry workers). Now I appreciate this meditation could just as easily have been done with an animal in the wild. However given the meditation presented here, how do the meat eaters out there engage in this sort of meditation and continue normal regular support of the meat industry?

 

 Also thoughts on eating meat and the story also in Joyful Path of Good Fortune section The Sufferings of the Lower Realms. The Outline: The Sufferings of Beings in the Resembing Hells. There is a story of the Merchant –  Million Ear and Buddha (p183). I have contemplated this story and meat eating, with particular reference to the truly horrendous yet understandable effects in future lives of being a butcher. Recognising and believing fully such actions and effects, can any one tell me how they themselves reconcile this with giving their money to support many workers in the meat industry to continue their work.

Now I am led to believe that while collecting alms Buddha and followers would accept food offered to them including meat, and that with respect to this Buddha made no rule advising against eating meat offered to one whilst begging. But he did advise against having an animal killed especially for us (for food..). So I guess this immediately clearly rules out the old choose a lobster in restaurant thing (do any Buddhists partake in this kind of thing?). However we must take into account the society we live in when considering the actions to be avoided. Few of us are begging for food within an economy like the one Buddha lived in. We all know clearly that we live in a market economy that is ruled by demand and supply. Everyone accepts that in our economy supply and the rate of supply is utterly dependent upon demand. Consumer power has never had more effect in this case. When people begin to demand less and less Foie gras (goose liver) for example (as happened) in the UK then less and less is ordered by suppliers, less is produced by Foie gras farms and in fact those farms have cut backs or some have had to change business and some employees have to find other work and so on.. you get the picture.

 

This may seem like a lot of fuss in a un-ideal world, however I am starting to think it seems very easy these days to be a non-meat eater. One last point to consider is the scale of the suffering, namely that according to Compassion in World Farming’s 2008 latest figures the number of animals killed each year just for human consumption is roughly ten times the number of humans on the planet.